How to get out of really useless meetings
In my previous article, I propose a simple set of questions to determine the usefulness or uselessness of a given meeting. In it, I explore what to do when you can answer “Yes” to one or more of the questions. Today, I explore what to do when you answer “Yes” to NONE of the questions. That means it’s a really bad meeting and is worthless to you and probably a bunch of other people. You should get out of it.
First, let’s review the five questions for determining the meeting’s usefulness:
Do the other attendees bring some value to me? (Y/N)
Do I bring value to the other attendees? (Y/N)
Does the anticipated value of the meeting exceed what I can get accomplished if I don’t attend? (Y/N)
Will the meeting content get me un-stuck, make my work better, easier, more efficient, or compelling? (Y/N)
Will I have to do something differently in my job as a result of the meeting (Y/N)
Now think of a meeting that you are dreading to attend. Why are you dreading it? It’s because you answered “No” to all five questions. You should get out of that meeting. Here are some suggestions for how to do it:
First tip: Use these questions as an argument to get out of it.
Since you answered “No” to each of the questions, you can use these as reasons to get out of the meeting. Learn these reasons and be able to rattle them off:
“I don’t anticipate learning anything from the other attendees”
“I don’t think that I’ll provide any value to the other attendees, I’ll just be observing”
“I have some pressing things that I could really use that time for.”
“What’s being covered will not help me improve my job. I have what I need to keep working on my deliverables.”
“No decisions are anticipated during the meeting that will force me to change what I’m doing, so I don’t need to attend this one.”
You may need to practice rattling off these reasons, and you’ll want to mix up the order, but the more rapid-fire you can do this, the harder the counter-argument will be for you to attend the meeting. Keep up the pressure!
“I have some pressing things, I don’t anticipate that I’ll add value to the other attendees—they don’t need anything from me, they aren’t planning to share anything that is new to me, and we don’t anticipate any changes and I have what I need to keep getting my work done.”
Together, this is an overwhelming series of argumentation that will have either your boss or the meeting leader less capable to argue you back into the meeting.
Tip 2: Try again the next time the meeting rolls around
OK, I’m assuming that you weren’t successful the first time around, or else you wouldn’t need a second tip. But you’re back. So apparently whoever it was that asked you to attend this meeting essentially decreed, “You have to attend the meeting.” (hmm. . . smacks of a “Mandatory Meeting”, which I have written about previously).
This time, you can say that you actually attended that meeting, most likely a “recurring meeting,” if you have the knowledge of its actual uselessness to be able to answer “No” to all five questions. And now you can use the prior meeting as a series of reasons for not attending the meeting. This time the language can be more direct, since it is based on very recent experience, and counts as specific and immediate feedback on the meeting:
“Last time I attended the meeting, I got no value from the other attendees, they got no value from me, my time would have been better spent not attending that meeting, there was no content that made my job better, and I didn’t have to do anything differently as a result of the meeting.”
Keep using these arguments, because the “you have to attend” argument that comes in response will start to fade. The person requiring your attendance will then start to think, “Hmm. . . maybe it is better if she doesn’t attend the meeting, since there doesn’t seem to be any value.”
Please note that you don’t even need to stay informed of the meeting’s results, since you actually answered “No” to all five questions. If you would have benefitted or had to act from just knowing what transpired, then you’d have to answer “Yes” to at least one of the questions. See my previous article on some suggestions for what to do in these situations.
Why these arguments should work – or at least have a greater chance of working:
You may have to go through a few cycles of this, but the reason this argumentation has a better chance of working is that it focuses on the value of the meeting, and not the personalities of the attendees. If you had chosen arguments like, “The meeting leader is useless”, or “I hate that snake who’s in there who always derails the meeting,” (note: This are examples of not using behavior-based language, please read the behavior-based language primer) it still doesn’t discount the possibility that the meeting is useful on some level. These series of arguments, in contrast, focus on the outcomes and impact it has on your work and other people’s work, and, as a result, appeals to the core reason you are at work. It will eventually win out, although it may take a while. Think of it as training the “mandatory” person in a new vocabulary about the relative value of meetings.
From a Management Design perspective, what is your team or organization doing to assure that the answers are “Yes” to as many of the above questions as possible? Is there any method in your design for helping people who answer “No” to all five questions to get out of the meeting?